The fall into the darkness had been far longer than Tythel had expected. She’d managed to dig her talons into the side of the hole, slowing her descent.
Tellias had not been so lucky. She’d heard him hit the ground below with a clatter of metal on stone. His armor was still glowing at the bottom. Tythel climbed down as quickly as she could manage. If Tellias was unharmed, any sound he was making was hidden by the roaring fire above. Please be alright, please be alright, Tythel thought frantically.
Then her foot caught empty air, and Tythel started to fall as well. She twisted her body in the air, catching herself on her hands and feet. The twisting path that Catheon had dug into the forest floor had punched through to a small cavern beneath the earth. The light provided by Tellias armor was just enough to illuminate the caverns walls, covering them with twisting shadows. A few points of the cavern were beyond the reach of that weak light, and Tythel had no idea how far they stretched. It could be a few feet. It could be miles.
It also wasn’t important right now. She scrambled over to Tellias. “Please be alright,” she said out loud, finally voicing her internal monologue.
Tellias’ response was a low groan of pain. “Did we make it? Is this the Shadow?”
Tythel sobbed out a laugh. “You absolute jerk. I thought you were dead!”
“So did I,” Tellias said. “But the Shadow is supposed to be without pain, without suffering. If that’s true, I definitely am not in the Shadow.”
Tythel shook her head and took a moment to look him over. His armor was, against all odds, mostly intact. There were cracks and dents along various points in it, but the armor hadn’t really lost any of its integrity. “Well, the suit’s fine.”
“Oh, that’s just…that’s just flathing wonderful. The suit is fine. Light forsake us all, so long as the suit remain fine.” Tellias groaned again.
“And if you are feeling well enough to be sarcastic, you’re feeling well enough to stand up.” Tythel said, not bothering to hide her amusement. Even though the situation was dire, at least he was joking.
“That,” Tellias said after a moment of silence, “has to be the worst logic I’ve ever heard. I can absolutely employ sarcasm with two broken legs.”
“Something my father used to say,” Tythel admitted. “I think it was just a way to get a smart mouthed child to not impose on him more than she had to.”
“Oh,” Tellias said. “I…I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to insult-”
Tythel let out a huff of air. “Tellias, you did not insult my father by pointing out the logic he used against me as a child. I’ve heard some of the things parents tell children to get them to behave. They’re all equally, if not more, absurd.”
Tellias nodded and held out a hand. “Still, should think before I speak more often. Want to see if you can help me up? I’d like to be on my feet if something comes flying down that hole.”
Tythel wasted no time taking the proffered hand and helping Tellias stand. She kept the weight as much as she could on her good ankle. The bad one groaned in protest at even the light pressure she was putting on it.
Once Tellias was upright, Tythel sat on the floor and folded her legs into a lotus, the injured ankle on top. She poked it gently. The pressure didn’t hurt, confirming her earlier suspicion that it was just twisted, not sprained or – worse – broken.
The light pressure did, however, make her aware of the other aches and pains across her body from the earlier fight. She’d been cut, battered, and was overall just sore in places she hadn’t been aware could get sore. “I think we’re safe,” Tythel said.
Tellias looked over her. “Why are you certain of that?”
“I made sure their Umbrist saw me walk through flame. They won’t suspect that we’d dive into a hole to survive. They’ll be more worried we’re hiding in the fire, ready to strike the moment they enter.” Tythel sighed. “And with that many dried leaves, the fire will spread far.” She couldn’t help but keep the bitter edge out of her voice with those last few words.
“You’re worried,” Tellias said, sitting down next to her. Tythel nodded in the darkness. “That they’ll find us?”
“No,” Tythel said. “I…I had to set some fields ablaze so we could escape. Before I met you. Now I’ve set an entire forest on fire, not knowing how far it could spread. People could be in those woods. Animals definitely are. And I…torched the whole thing to ensure we survive.”
“Forest fires happen. Animals are good at evading them. A dragon unleashing flame is probably no more surprising than a flash of lightning igniting it. They’ll be fine. And Alohym regulations require that no buildings be built within thirty spans of intact woodland for that exact reason. I think you’re morally in the clear this time.”
Tythel scowled at one of the patches of shadow, just to avoid looking directly into Tellias’ eyes. “I suppose,” she admitted. “I just…”
“Worry that our fight against the Alohym is a pointless struggle over who gets to rule the world, when we should be seeking peace?” Tellias asked.
Tythel snapped her head towards him. “Of course not,” she said, her voice harsh. “They’re murderers and monsters. Why? Do you think that?”
“I wonder sometimes,” Tellias admitted. “The Alohym…what they’ve done is terrible. But they aren’t a monolithic group. Different Alohym have different goals, and different desires. We’ve seen it in their action. You pointed out the fact that they fight amongst themselves. Isn’t it possible there are some among them that could live peacefully among us, if we could get them to the negotiation table to talk terms? That even among alien invaders, there might be some good Alohym?”
Tythel looked away from Tellias, hiding her anger behind her hair. “I’ll believe it when I see proof of it,” Tythel said. “It seems an odd topic of conversation when an Alohym nearly killed us.”
“A human working for the Alohym, you said. Three of them.” Tellias shook his head and sighed. “I”m…you know, you’re right. This is a poor topic of conversation right now.”
“Glad we agree on that,” Tythel said, and then took a deep breath, softening her anger. “I’m sorry, Tellias. I just…you caught me off guard.”
“And interrupted you,” Tellias said, “what were you going to say before I rudely butted in?”
Tythel nodded in appreciation of the change of topic. “I just grow tired of needing to cause damage to the landscape to survive. Destroying to ensure my own survival…it’s not what we do.”
Tellias flipped up his faceplate so that Tythel could see him. He had a growing bruise of his left eye, and his face was turned down in a frown. “Which we are you referring to?”
“Dragons,” Tythel said.
“Uh…I’m no historian, but I’m pretty sure that…well, I mean, there are plenty of accounts of-” Tellias looked nervous.
“Burning the countryside, kidnapping heirs, razing kingdoms for their treasure? That was the old way. The ways of the ancient dragons, like Grejhak the Necromancer and Selevij the Voracious and Infernal Sjackix. We know it left an impression on humanity, and was part of why we preferred out isolation.”
Tythel reached down and began to idly scrape the stone beneath her with her talon, the way she’d used to run her fingers through the dirt when thinking as a child. “We only really ever exited our lairs to help defeat the evils that plagued mankind. Figured it was a good way to rebuild trust. And one of those tenants was that we don’t do that sort of thing anymore. That we were better than that.”
Tythel’s nictitating membranes flashed, fighting back tears that were starting to form. “And here I am, torching yet another countryside for my own benefit. I wonder what they’ll call me? Tythel the Scorcher? Tythel the Vicious?”
“Tythel the Regal, perhaps,” Tellias said, putting an armored hand on her shoulder. Tythel leaned into the gesture, taking comfort in the touch. “I won’t let you think of yourself as a monster. Being in this fight means that we have to do things that go against our nature for the sake of the greater good. You are no worse than any of us, Tythel.”
Tythel took another deep breath and nodded, leaning back against Tellias’ armor. He looked surprised, but wrapped the arm around her.
They sat there like that for a time, letting the fire rage overhead.